Leypang, named after the beach north of Bang Tao where he was caught early last Friday morning (Sept 1), is currently being kept at a Phuket Coastal Fisheries Research and Development Centre in Pa Khlok. (See story here.)
Immediately after the 200-kilo, three-metre saltwater croc’s capture, Phuket Governor Norraphat Plodthong ordered officials along the west coast to look for other crocodiles in their areas to ensure public safety.
Local crocodile farms and tourist show venues were also checked to confirm no crocodiles were missing.
To date, no others have been found. To experts, that is not surprising. Saltwater crocodiles for decades have been widely considered to be nigh extinct in Thailand, and any rogues that are found in Thai waters are protected as they are listed as an endangered species in the Kingdom.
However, expert website crocodilian.com notes that wild populations of Crocodylus porosus such as Leypang can be found only a few hundred kilometres north of Phuket, albeit in Myanmar, but on the Andaman coast across from Prachuap Khiri Khan. (See here.)
Dr Thon Thamrongnawasawat, Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Fishery at Kasetsart University in Bangkok and who serves as an official advisor to the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR), urged officials to take proactive steps to ensure Leypang is properly cared for – but most importantly he stressed that whatever decision is made, that local residents support it.
“I know that many people are calling for Leypang to be set free, but this should only happen if there is overwhelming support for it among local residents,” he said, noting that local residents are the ones who would have to live with the crocodile in their midst.
“Officials should exhaust all possibilities of tracking down where Leypang came from and return him to the wild there. I know officials are working hard on this, but if that option is not possible, whatever option is decided must include the opinions of local people – and whichever agency is tasked with making the decision must not be held responsible for the decision alone, everyone affected must have their say on this,” Dr Thon explained.
Meanwhile, well-known conservationists in Thailand the Sueb Nakhasathien Foundation (SNF) called for Leypang to be moved immediately to a “closed suitable natural place for study and to relieve the crocodile of stress.”
The stress, SNF noted, was evident in that Leypang seemed despondent and was not eating while in his current enclosure.
As a long-term measure, SNF called for Laypang to be released in a suitable habitat for survival.
“The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) plays an important roll in the preservation of wildlife, and saltwater crocodiles are now in a serious situation,” the foundation said in a public statement issued on Monday (Sept 4).
“They can be found in the Indo-Pacific from the Bay of Bengal to the Andaman Islands all the way to the north of Australia, but in Thailand saltwater crocodiles are listed as 'CR', meaning Critically Endangered.
“Their natural habitat and populations have decreased. The Department of Fisheries has to cooperate with other offices to take care [of Leypang] and release him back to nature, and to study suitable habitats for them [saltwater crocodiles].”